Why Less is NOT More, and More is NOT Better.

Emily R Pappas, M.S.

Trying to improve your lax game?  Adding another 2 nights of practice may not get you the results you want.

Rolled your ankle at softball practice?  Taking the entire 3 days off may not get you back on the field as intended. 



The relationship between training load, injury, and performance is much too complex to simplify in a ‘DO MORE’ or ‘DO LESS’ statement.

 Rather, we have to consider the bigger picture when working towards a certain goal.




Training is a necessary stressor to create a need for improvement or adaptation.  

Without training, there is no need to improve.  


BUT with stress, comes fatigue.  And with more fatigue, the less your body is able to perform.  


Recovery methods allow us to manage our fatigue


Adequate recovery is necessary to allow the body reduce fatigue and return your body to its baseline (or level of performance prior to training)


We need to both increase recovery and reduce your training load (time and intensity in sport training) when we want to drive SUPERCOMPENSATION.  


What is “Supercompensation”?


“Supercompensation” is the ability of your body to recover from hard training and ADAPT to improve your fitness above the baseline level.


During supercompensation, your body is able to reduce fatigue.  A reduction in fatigue is KEY when promoting high performance.


Our favorite saying at Relentless is “FATIGUE MASKS FITNESS”




Without a reduction in fatigue, your body will NEVER be able to showcase the results of your hard work in training.  


If you consistently add to your training and never allow for a decrease in fatigue, your body will never show your improved “fitness”  


You need to train to STRESS your body to want to improve


You need to RECOVER to your body to ADAPT


And you need to DECREASE your training load when it is time to showcase this adaptation through improved performance.   


BUT there is a limit to how low you can drop your training load before you start to see a DECREASE in performance.  This is because a certain amount of training is necessary to stimulate your body to MAINTAIN your level of fitness. [5]


Think of this as your MINIMUM TRAINING VOLUME….or the minimum amount of training you need to maintain your level of performance


Drop below this amount for too long and you will start to see a regression in your fitness level….



Training is a stressor that pushes your body to want to adapt and improve.


Prior to your season, the goal of training is to IMPROVE your fitness.  


This means

  • high training volumes,

  • high fatigue,

  • and an overall reduction in your ability to showcase your performance

(remember fatigue masks fitness!)


BUT….as you approach your season, the goals of your training change.

When it is time to PERFORM, the goal of your training needs to shift from improving to maintaining. (read more about in-season training here!)


A minimum or “maintainance” amount of training is NECESSARY during your season to help maintain the strength and work capacity you built during the off season.  Introducing loads that stimulate your body enough to maintain this fitness allows you to manage your levels of fatigue, reduce your chance of injury, and promote high levels of performance!


If you stop lifting all together you drop below this maintenance level, and we start to get into trouble…


At first, you will see your performance go through the roof!  


Remember, less stress = more time for supercompensation and less fatigue to mask your fitness level!


But when there is too much time away from the weightroom, your body is no longer receiving the stimulus it needs to maintain the level of  fitness you started the season with. Without a stimulus to maintain, your performance is going to decrease, nagging injuries start to arise, and all your hard earned gains seem to fly out the window.


This means a certain amount of lifting and practice time is NECESSARY during your season so you MAINTAIN what you previously worked for during the off season.


BUT the amount of training you do needs to be managed so that your fatigue levels don’t get too high [2].  




When training loads are TOO HIGH, your fatigue is going to be through the roof, and your performance is going to plummet.


This is not ideal when you are nearing playoffs……


Instead, keep your training loads at levels that help you maintain your fitness without adding to the fatigue your body is exposed to with competition.




Injuries happen when your body is exposed to more stress than it can handle.


This stress can be ACUTE ….like when high forces lead you to sprain your knee ligament during a cut in a soccer game.


This stress can also be CUMULATIVE…like when your wrist starts to nag after  3 intense practices, 2 games, and no days off in between.


Remember, the total amount of stress your body experiences over time also includes stressors OUTSIDE of your training.


This means 3 intense practices, 2 games, no days off + a calc exam + breaking up with your boyfriend + being home sick is a RECIPE for an overly fatigue athlete.


When fatigue is high, your risk of injury also increases.


Adding MORE training to an athlete that is already high fatigue spells trouble. You’re heading straight for decreased performance AND increased injury risk!


Managing Your Training Load


When fatigue is high, your performance doesn’t drop because you are getting worse. It drops because your fatigue is masking your fitness level.


If fatigue remains high, this drop in performance could however become permanent.


This is why introducing proper recovery techniques and dropping training volumes is NECESSARY to allow your body to not only recover, but to SHOWCASE those improvements when it matters most!  


Do you have a big game on Friday and on Monday you are feeling run down, achy, and not performing the way you want?


Time to implement a decrease in your training load.  


Dropping both the time and intensity you devote to your training while focusing on things that promote recovery (such as sleep and nutrition) will help decrease your levels of fatigue.


Less fatigue means greater ability to showcase your athletic skills come game day on Friday!


BUT remember, there is a MINIMUM training load you need to MAINTAIN your performance.


Taking the entire week off is going to drop you down below this maintenance volume.


Drop too low, and you will actually INCREASE the chance of injury when you return to the field.


Without maintaining your work capacity, you become deconditioned to handle the workloads your body was previously able to handle.  


This is why taking completely off after an injury is not suggested by sport physiologists [4]


Athletes who take full rest after an injury not only decrease their overall fitness and delay their return to play, but they also increase their risk of injury when they do return. (read more about it here!)


Rather, it is in the athlete’s best interest to implement pain free training during the injury recovery process so that

  1. The athlete is able to return to play FASTER (and her injury is able to catch up to the rest of her body sooner…thanks crossover effect!)

  2. The athlete’s risk of injury DECREASES because her work capacity did not diminish [1]


Of course after a larger injury like an ACL tear that requires surgery, initially full rest is needed to give her tissues time to repair. But studies show that early loading can improve return to play time [1] and  gradually progressing that loading throughout the recovery process can provide protection from future re-injury.


A BALANCING ACT Of Training, Injury Risks, And Performance


When it comes to performance, athletes (and their coaches) need to remember you CANNOT both IMPROVE and PERFORM at the same time.


You need to have designated periods where training loads are HIGH and improvements are being sought after…


and you also need periods where training loads to LOWERED to allow for recovery, adaptation, and the showcasing those improvements through HIGHER PERFORMANCE..


Trying to improve your hitting skills?


It’s probably not the best time to introduce hitting practice 2x a week when you are already overly fatigued with daily practices, games, and prom season approaching.


Instead, get the extra practice during your off season when you have the ability to handle more stress and fatigue without needing to showcase your performance.


Trying to rehab an ankle sprain?


It’s not the best idea to netflix binge watch for 3 days straight and then jump back in the game with your team that weekend.  


Instead, get into the weightroom and train around your injury so you can maintain your work capacity and fitness level.  Manage your workload progressively and you will find yourself returning to play faster than you thought!



[1 ] Gabbett TJ. Debunking the myths about training load, injury and performance: empirical evidence, hot topics and recommendations for practitioners  J Sports Med  Published Online First: 26 October 2018. Doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-099784

[2] Harrison PW, Johnston RD. Relationship between training load, tness, and injury over an Australian Rules Football Preseason. J Strength Cond Res2017;31:2686–93.

[3] Milewski MD, Skaggs DL, Bishop GA, et al. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. J Pediatr Orthop2014;34:129–33.

[4] Colby MJ, Dawson B, Peeling P, et al. Repeated exposure to established high risk workload scenarios improves non-contact injury prediction in Elite Australian footballers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform2018;15:1–22.

[5] Gabbett TJ, Hulin BT. Activity and recovery cycles and skill involvements of successful and unsuccessful elite rugby league teams: a longitudinal analysis of evolutionary changes in National Rugby League match-play. J Sports Sci2018;36:180–90.